Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Why (as a consumer) you should love and support advertising

Not a trendy POV, especially for the younger net-savvy crowd. After-all, what kind of dumbass doesn’t have ad-block installed right? That will ‘stick it to the man’, and make your life easier right? Well frankly…some sites may as well have a huge banner that says ‘INSTALL ADBLOCK’, because they have flashing strobing monstrosities designed by people who have no idea how proper 21st century ads actually work but hey…don’t tarnish all ads with the same brush.

I’d suggest that as a consumer, you should LOVE advertising. Here is why. Like Democracy, advertising is a shit system, but its better than all the alternatives. There is basically a dilemma for anyone who makes a product, and that is ‘how do I get people to hear about my product’. The most honest answer to the question is that you set aside part of your budget to rent space where people will look, and use that space to inform people that your product exists. This is, of course, simple advertising. It works. It’s also fair. People would say it is biased towards those with money, but that money is simply an expression of faith in the product. Where some people have money, others have time. Time basically is money.

If you block all ads, or worse still, tar product-makers who advertise as being ‘evil’ or ‘corporate’ or, to quote some reddit replies to my ads ‘shilling scum’ (yup, under a ‘promoted link’, clearly paid for openly and proudly by me…’go figure’), then you are simply forcing business to find an alternative solution to promoting the product. The thing is, people WILL find another way to get their product promoted over the opposition. It is the life-blood of business. If you prevent them using ads, then the temptation to go with less obvious, less honest, frankly underhand and shady methods is going to win out.

From a business POV, spending $30k on ads vs handing $30k in a paypal payment to a famous you-tuber are essentially the same thing. The end result is the same, and the cost is the same. The first choice is very up-front and honest and people know what is going on. The second choice (assuming its undeclared to the viewer) is basically subverting what claims to be impartial information and manipulating it to push an agenda. Do people want that?

There are a vast range of businesses (I get emails from them all the time) offering to sell people twitter followers, or post on forums on your behalf, or up-vote social media posts, and all the rest of it, no-doubt linked to click-farms in China or India. This is the dark-side of ‘social-network-marketing’. If you want to just ‘buy’ popularity on a site where commercial concerns are banned, then it’s easy, just fill out this form and send the money. Unethical as fuck, clearly, but do you really think that nobody does it? if they didn’t, the spam emails wouldn’t be economic, for starters.

There is a myth, in the ‘anti-corporate, anti-ads’ world, that you can block out all ‘corporate’ influence, but you cannot. Not outside of North Korea, anyway. Even if your site has no ads, and absolute rock-solid captcha stuff to ensure there are no bots, and that nobody from (perish the thought) a games company is posting on your site, then it would still be trivial, trivial, trivial, to completely rig the odds.

Anyone with their own forums knows that preventing spam is almost impossible because a lot of it is ‘human spam’, in other words, accounts created by actual people (paid minimum wage in India/China) who can enter the captcha quite easily, make a few seemingly innocent posts, before (in my experience), spamming your site with links to cheap kitchen fitting. When you see this, it is basically human-marketing agents done really really badly.

Now imagine a situation with a smarter ‘black hat style’ marketing company. Say they have $100k to spend to promote game X. Why spend it on 10,000 Chinese kids who are obvious as hell, when you can just employ 10 full time western ‘social marketing agents’ for 3 months to actually go out there and hustle for the game. They can join dozens, if not hundreds of sites, read loads of threads, make loads of posts, look like any other member of the community, just hanging out, chilling, talking about games, and they all just so happen to have recently picked up a copy of X, and you know what? to be honest, game X is the best damned game they ever played, no seriously.

That is the world of game marketing without ads. It’s not always obvious. There is a spectrum. On the one hand, you have 10,000 Chinese kids spamming the world about Civony, or some other browser-based crap. On the other end of the spectrum, you have just two or three marketing experts who do their job so well you have absolutely no idea they have any connection to a games company whatsoever. What they have in common, is they are trying to subvert a non-commercial arena into being a commercial one.

Ads are different. there is a clear dividing line. When you see an ad for my games, It’s not disguised as anything else. It’s honest. It’s me saying ‘I believe enough in you liking the look of this game, I’m actually paying out money to tell you about it’.¬† I reckon thats good, thats fair, thats what I like, and thats why I have adblock off for the majority of my surfing.

I could take the hint, realize gamers have decided that ads are evil, that actually ‘lets players¬† deserve to be paid’, and just say ‘fuck it’, and hand over loads of cash to a PR company to do whatever the fuck they like, and ask no questions, but I’d rather not. I don’t want to be a full time promoter and schmoozer. I’m a game designer and programmer. Don’t let the underhand schmoozers take over.


10 thoughts on Why (as a consumer) you should love and support advertising

  1. For every sire that advertises gracefully or unobtrusively, there are half a dozen that ram every bit of whitespace full of ads, adwords, popups, things that make noise if you put your cursor in the wrong place, and massive breasts enticing one to play some RPG.

    If advertisers (as in, the people paying for the space) want consumers to maybe not run adblock, maybe you need to be choosier about what sort of site you (as a group, not personally) give money to – you guys are the customers, not us. If you say ‘your page is too rammed full of eyesore shit, no customer will ever choose to not run adblock here, so I will give my money to someone else’, maybe some sites will get the message.

    In no sane land should it be up to your target audience to look at your ad because it is some kind of right thing to do – you make your advertising as enticing as possible, and part of that has to be putting it somewhere people will see it. I (and I would assume many if not most others) turn off adblock for sites we like and frequent, as long as their ads are not massively over the top – if your ads are being blocked constantly, choose better places for them to be.

    You guys are the ones with the power to make us not absolutely loathe online advertising – you control the money. Stop letting the places carry your advertising turn into flashing noisemaking atrocities, and maybe fewer people will feel the need to make the internet usable by blocking ads.

  2. Great post Cliff. I guess some people just visit the wrong sites. I always hear people complaining about sites full of bad ads, but quite frankly I don’t run into it that often. When I do I just avoid that site in the future. Even the ads on Kongregate aren’t bad. They throw up a quick ad, before you play a game, that you can skip after 10 seconds and just have one banner at the top and one other add below if you happen to go read comments. I have never blocked ads because they don’t bother me because I ignore them if I am not interested and have used them to find games that I have like. One example is World of Tanks. Been playing that for over 2 years and discovered it through an ad.

  3. So I agree with almost everything this post is saying, and I don’t use an ad blocker. So anyways, I learned about your game through steam, I think that steam might just be where the advertising market is going. Just having your game on steam will probably do more for it than most advertising. I know for my self, when I’m looking for new games, I go to steam, and mostly ignore ads on websites. So if you’re trying to get a game to get publicity, put it on steam if possible. That’s just my 2 cents.

  4. In utopia no one would advertise, everyone would list their product and features in a Big Database/Directory with a drill-down & filtering on features and numbers of refunds wanted.

    Wikipedia has pages for nearly anything. One could have a counterpart for wikipedia that you could flip to from each corresponding wikipedia page. This counterpart could have this directory (of course with location and price based filtering too).

    Point being – the wikipedia article is the description for why something exists and what are the applications. The service/productpedia would be the place to get that.

    In utopia the discovery process could go like this:

    I go to wikipedia and read articles, learn new things. Then after I learned about new things I may desire to have them – then I may elect to look for reviews (maybe biased but not through pay-for-review sort of deal, in utopia that is).

    Advertising breaks this ideal, because with advertising large corporates/who have most money can use both (most) advertising to sell bad product and M&A shut down lower margin/better products that are eating into their current or opportunistic revenue(-outlook). This allows big companies to churn out stuff no one wants if the alternaties were on equal grounding in visibility and since the margin-optimized crap production has driven down either quality on the product or margins or volume on the competition across the board, those who have better product are still probable to look for exit (m&a) as they can’t sustain business with margins that allow retail presence. Further all the retail stores are increasingly selling their own brands that are competitive quality wise but much lower cost due to minimal advertising – good for me in short term but as the product diversity increases I think long term all those small producers will find either in pressure to lower margins to compete with the “in-house product” or price themselves out of the volume. Either way the big corps will then be able to reclaim the share. This creates optimization incentives in lot of quality parameters and race to the bottom in some form or other.

  5. Oops I should have read the blog to the end.

    Corrections to my comment above:


    The directory of things / “productpedia” (back side of every wikipedia “frontside”-page) would essentially be the “advertising” in the utopia. Difference being, it would be a bit more equal footing.

    However the problem is of course – the productpedia products should be groupable by relation to the source (factory, corp). Otherwise one corp or factory could create a lot of products in some category and out-flood/spam the other products with the person browsing the productpedia/directory not being able to easily filter out all the “its same but in a different box” products.

  6. I do have to say that even in the supposed utopia with no advertising, just a directory with good sort/filter/grouping, the name of the product matters a great deal. When you are shifting through thousands of time wasters with previous experience of wasting a great deal of time, the most creative names and descriptions act as the sole form of advertising. A more creative, well thought out name can be reflective of more time spent on the product. I think I may’ve said this before but on some products where the names are made up by people also responsible for the product in other major ways, the name can be a very strong indicators of what to expect. eg. back when I did DJ’ing I could shift through thousands of songs and eventually learned that I didn’t even need to listen the song to know reliably what is was like.

  7. Though, I wonder if this creative naming can also work against itself:
    Lets say most of the products of the market had creative/unique/novel names. Then along comes a “Bored People Simulator” – no one else has anything as bland and unimaginative on the market and yet somehow “funny”. This could be a marketing edge from the differentiator aspect – especially if all the other products on the market were too quirky/weird for a particular consumer(segment).

  8. Earlier I wrote about optimization of various kind that “leaves nothing to the table”. In advertising this could be eg. optimization of the loudness of the advertisement, such that either particular ad or on a particular channel, the ads are so loud that one turns down the volume. Then when this becomes a habit and the ads are optimized for cost so they become bad in general vs prior experience, one may start to flip through channels. And soon “nothing is left to the table” because quality conscious market left the producers of quality product/advertisement and the producer of the loudness & cost optimized ads will be rewarded as there’s people who just keep watching the ads regardless of their quality – then retail will start to stock only them because they are more visible/loud and soon those who want quality will have to find it abroad etc – though not for long as corp M&A team and exit strategy thinking hits again.

    Substitute popups/flashing etc for loudness and it’s similar in the web. The loud and obnoxious thrive not because they are better but because of “tragedy of the commons” situation occurring. The depleted resource being attention of those who care about quality.

    Disclaimer: This could all be complete bs since I have just drawn conclusions based on observations from distance on limited data. The reality might be that I’m seeing just the effect while the real causes are more “complicated” where “complicated” usually translates to “supply and demand” – but gaining data on why the supply/demand shifted in various way is ultimately all about aggregate anecdotal evidence. And my piece of evidence is that those loud/flashy/popup ads were annoying and I stopped viewing ads completely.

  9. I’ve held off from ad blocking for years and years, because as you say, the next step after CPM and after CPC, is affiliate marketing which really is a recipe for a web full of shills.

    But not long ago I caved and installed RequestPolicy. You know what the straw that broke the camel’s back was? This shitty little Nespresso HTML5 banner that would always peg a CPU core, and seemed to be retargeted to me, so it followed me around. If the ad networks won’t vet garbage like that, what hope do they have against drive-by malware? Fuck ’em. Wake me when the ad networks get their shit together.

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